5 Types of Shows To Avoid Playing

Back when I started making music over a decade ago, nothing made me more excited than booking and playing shows. No matter the venue, quality and size of the crowd and amount of money I made, I was elated to be able to play on stage. But it didn’t take long to realize that some shows were worth my time and some weren’t, and after years of touring and trying to make a career out of being a musician, I learned taking certain shows ended up actually noticeably hurting my career in music.

Every musician is different which means that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure when it comes to shows. But even still, there are some shows that are never worth playing. Here’s a helpful list of five shows every musician should run from:

1. Most “Battle of The Bands” show competitions

Sometime between the 1950’s and today, the majority of “Battle of The Bands” shows somehow turned into ways for shady concert promoters to exploit local bands in their cities. These days, most of these “shows” consist of a dozen or so bands of every genre and experience level you can think of playing a couple of songs on stage to a sparse crowd. Despite what the promoter promises you, these shows are usually never worth playing even if you’re new and looking for experience.

2. Pay-to-play shows

Here’s a helpful tip: Any performance opportunity that requires you or your band to pay to perform in advance is actually just a venue rental and not a real show. Some of the nastier players in music scenes set up these shows to profit off of the eagerness and enthusiasm of new bands and young musicians, and it’s disgusting. Sure, you might play to a packed crowd, but it’ll cost you. If you’re looking to gain some valuable show experience, you’ll be much better off hosting a show in your garage than falling for one of these schemes.

3. Shows where you’re only payed with “exposure”

Play music long enough and you’ll soon get asked to play for free in return for the chance to get on stage in front of a massive, packed crowd of new listeners. Making music isn’t about money, but it costs money to create, record, and perform it. So unless you’re performing at some sort of charity benefit, don’t fall for this trick. From my experience, the big crowd people promise almost never shows up, and if they do, why shouldn’t you get compensated for your hard work and talent?

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4. Any non-festival evening show with five or more bands on the bill

A show with five or more bands on the bill is a red flag that the venue or promoter you’re working with has no idea what they’re doing. When venues cast a wide net and try to book as many bands as possible in the hopes of getting people through the door, it’s a bad sign. Remember, what you do is valuable and meaningful. If you have any suspicion that a venue isn’t taking you and your music seriously, the show isn’t worth your time.

5. Most shows featuring bands of clashing genres

Unless you’re showcasing new music at a reputable venue in a place like LA or New York City, it’s best to avoid playing shows with bands that don’t sound anything like you. Live shows are supposed to be curated events where, in theory, an opener could become your new favorite band because they sound somewhat like the main act you came to see. This doesn’t usually happen when venues book literally everyone they can to fill the bill.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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  • Dawn Duchess - December 27, 2017 reply

    Great article!

  • Rob Roper - December 27, 2017 reply

    I agree! I’ve been suckered in playing almost all of these type gigs. Thanks, Patrick, for your blog. Maybe others won’t have to learn these lessons from experience like I did.

  • Cassandra Kubinski - December 27, 2017 reply

    Amen brother.

  • Melissa Clark - December 28, 2017 reply

    I have to agree with every bit of this. Battles of the Bands are the primary source of exploitation and the rest are similarly demeaning and offer just about nothing, if not even less, for the performers. There may not be a musician born every minute, but there is always someone trying to turn us into suckers!

  • ken bruun--olsen - December 28, 2017 reply

    Too True Melissa Clark. I’ve figured out long ago that the record industry went from One Giant Monster (the Record Companies) trying to bleed us dry, to Multiple Companies chipping away at our meager earnings with the ‘Promise’ of Connections to The Next Step of this Exploitative Industry of Today. Or selling our Creations at a Dollar-a-Pop.

  • Muzzy - December 28, 2017 reply

    So are u saying onlt play for money. Id like to se a list of sbows worth playing.

  • James Carbonaro - December 29, 2017 reply

    Can’t say I’ve seen a Battle of the Bands since I graduated from high school in 1975. And most of those were just a competition to see who had the loudest amps. Have you ever seen a Battle of the Bands which featured only folk or bluegrass acts? Pay-to-Play is a no brainer. Would you ever dine at a restaurant that paid you to eat their food? Back in the 1950’s, Alan Freed use to put on concerts featuring numerous bands. Each act came out & performed the two or three songs they were trying to promote. The whole show lasted a little over an hour, & everyone went home thrilled. But that was then & this is now. However, it still begs the question: Why not organize your own music festival? The Mommas & Poppas organized Monterey Pop, the granddaddy of all rock ‘n roll festivals, in 1967. They also scheduled themselves to be the closing act on Sunday night. As far as playing in a ‘clash of genres’ show goes – it may just open you up to a whole new crowd of fans. It could also get you booed off the stage. Think The Jimi Hendrix Experience opening up for The Monkeys during their summer of ’67 tour. Didn’t attend myself. But I remember hearing all about it from some pre-teen girls who were there; either in New York or in Washington.

  • Linda - December 30, 2017 reply

    Welcome to the music scene in Los Angeles! Almost every bar or restaurant venue engages in one or more of these five “stay clear of” types of gigs. It is very disheartening, and altho love of playing music should not have the pay day as the sole motivation, the only people getting paid it seems in LA are the promoters who book five bands a night or the promoters who want you to sell tickets to 20 of your best friends in order to have the honor of performing at one of their sponsored gigs. I am from New York, where even as a kid, in my high school band, we made an agreed upon fee whether we brought our friends to the place or not, and we typically played to packed crowds, that were customers of the venue. In LA, it’s either pay to play, a percentage of the bar, or a percentage of the door, where the promoter makes 100% of the first 10 or 20 people who come in saying they are there to see you, then, splits 50% of the door of anyone who says they are there to see you after the first 10 or 20. It equates to pennies. A friend of mine, a sax player, has a mantra. The only way he plays for free, or for percentages, is if everyone else in the venue works for free or for percentages. So that means, the bar tenders, the wait staff, the chef and kitchen staff, etc. If they are all on salary and getting tips on top, then why shouldn’t he get a paid a fee and tips on top? It’s like musicians in LA are afterthoughts. And hey. They’re having fun playing and rocking out. Why do they need to get paid? We’ve got them on a stage and showcasing them. They don’t need money. Right. Like we don’t need money to buy gear, pay for lessons and rehearsal space, buy gas and transportation, etc. The time it takes to arrive at venues on time in LA is a lot of extra time thanks to our horrific traffic, but yeah, we just love to play for the sake of playing and can forgo getting paid. As you can doubtless tell, this issue is a sore spot with me. Thank you for your article. It is a good reminder to all of us to not participate in these kinds of gigs.

  • James - Web Hosting Karachi - January 4, 2018 reply

    Couldn’t agree more! This is the first time I landed here on this blog and the article strike exactly on the point why i hate to attend shows that feature bands of clashing genres.
    Great article!

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